In his Lititz home, Jordan Bleyer has an office space he refers to as his music room.
In that room, Bleyer has a white board he uses to display his goals in plain view. In the weeks leading up to “Purple Heart,” his latest EP as Michael Wavves, he added a new goal to the board: Chart in the Top 20 on the iTunes R&B/Soul chart.
On the eve of the album’s release in June, Bleyer laid in bed staring at his phone. He refreshed the screen over and over until the iTunes chart data updated. Then, around 12:45 a.m., he saw it: “Purple Heart” debuted at No. 12.
“I about lost it,” says Bleyer, an eighth grade social studies teacher at Lebanon Middle School. “It was cool.”
It’s a huge jump from his last release, “Nights on Vine.” That EP, which was released on the iTunes hip-hop chart, was No. 54
Bleyer’s latest release explores a different side of his musicality. While Bleyer has always fused hip-hop with R&B elements into his work, “Purple Heart” strongly leans into those R&B tendencies, relying much more on melody.
That required Bleyer to step up his game vocally, which he did with the help of a vocal coach. About a year and a half ago, he took private lessons to improve his singing. He had a good amount of experience rapping for a crowd, but singing in earnest was a different venture. He sang for an audience for the first time earlier this summer on ABC 27’s “Good Day PA.”
“It was really cool, because basically just looking a fear in the face and singing in front of people and just going and doing it, you start to become much more comfortable with that a lot quicker,” Bleyer says.
Some of the songs on “Purple Heart” were written around the time he was creating “Nights on Vine.” When he realized the songs were similar thematically and sonically, he set them aside to release as their own distinct project.
Other tracks took longer to come together. Some of them were born from Bleyer revisiting beats or rough demos he made with longtime collaborator Eric Fletcher. He’d drive around listening to the half-finished tracks, imagining how he could tie up the loose ends.
“A lot of times, I will resurrect different songs or try to give them a second life in that way,” Bleyer says.
While Bleyer does have a military connection — his father served in the Navy for four years — the EP’s title was intended to conjure up a much different image. “Purple Heart” was named after the emoji Bleyer finds himself using most often while texting.
The album is tied together by nautical imagery and a story about a shipwreck. The album’s cover shows a sinking ship, which Bleyer sees as a metaphor for a rocky time in his own life.
“When all the songs started coming together, they were about one theme or one portion of my life when there was basically a relationship struggle,” Bleyer says. “I made some poor decisions and hurt somebody else. Different things like that. I didn’t like myself for a while. So the songs are definitely darker.”
There’s a story line running through the songs, from a captain crashing his own ship — Bleyer’s way of showing self-destruction — to imagery of someone washing up on shore, and later in the album, helicopters signaling a rescue. Sounds of ship horns and crashing waves are sprinkled throughout the recordings.
Bleyer collaborated with other artists he met online for the album, including Wyoming rapper Abstract, California artist Ivan B and Swedish singer Linda Lind.
Following the release of “Purple Heart,” Bleyer embarked on his longest tour yet, playing 10 shows in 11 days.
“Now I got my first tour run under my belt and I feel like I learned a whole bunch in terms of just how touring works. … It’s just one of those things where you have to go through it to start to learn about it,” Bleyer says.